Correspondence Correctional Education: An Informed Comparative Overview

Correspondence Correctional Education: An Informed Comparative Overview

While many like to discuss correspondence correctional education as a viable option for individual incarcerated students, few understand the costs associated with such education or the limitations involved. To bring the real costs and limitations to light, I present an analysis of 4 different regionally accredited college correspondence programs based on my personal experience.

Correspondence Correctional Education Costs

Cost is often the paramount concern when selecting a correspondence correctional education program. While many profess that correspondence college courses cost “a few hundred dollars,” few know precisely what “a few” means. Let me share a few current examples.

OHIO UNIVERSITY: $199 per semester hour ($141 per quarter hour) plus books, supplies, and shipping. $564 in tuition per course. A recent English course I took cost $750 with everything included.

UPPER IOWA UNIVERSITY: $283 per semester hour plus books, supplies, and shipping. $849 in tuition per course.

RIO SALADO COLLEGE: $215 per semester hour plus books, supplies, and shipping. $645 in tuition per 3-semester hour course.

LOUISIANA STATE UNIVERSITY: $148 per semester hour (additional administrative fees included) plus books, supplies, and shipping. $403 in tuition (additional administrative fees included) per 3-semester hour course.

AVERAGE TUITION RATE: $208.50 per semester hour

AVERAGE COURSE TUITION RATE: $615 per 3-semester hour course

*These rates don’t include textbooks, materials, and shipping.*

As you can see from the previous cost analysis, “a few hundred dollars” really means $615.25 plus books, supplies, and shipping if the inmate is to enroll in one of the four regionally accredited correspondence correctional education programs presented. I doubt that many people in the general public could afford such costs, much less an incarcerated student.

Inmate Funding

The other issue is how much inmates make from their institutional jobs. After all, this is the only way they can support themselves outside of asking for funds from their family or friends.

Prepare yourself for what I’m about to say because it will positively shock you and throw out the window the idea that incarcerated students could ever afford college correspondence correctional education courses.

I make $5.25 a month for 4O recorded hours of work. This equals $63 a year for 480 documented hours of work. From my institutional job, if I saved for a year, I couldn’t afford to pay for one semester hour of tuition from any of the presented programs. Now, it should be noted that I don’t work 40 hours a week. This is because so many people are on my work detail that they rarely call for my shift to go to work. But, this is an economic limit nonetheless.

It should also be noted that other jobs are known to pay more. Most prisoners here at FCI-Petersburg make between $15 and $25 a month, with some top earners bringing in $100 or more a month. It’s not like a person can ask for a $100-a-month job. One must position oneself in the correct department and then wait a few years for the top inmate to leave to receive this kind of employment.

Student Financial Aid

Another point often not understood by those discoursing on correspondence correctional education is the lack of financial aid eligibility for incarcerated students. Since 1994, incarcerated students have been restricted from receiving federal financial aid. This means that Pell Grants and student loans are not an option for these disenfranchised imprisoned students.

In my consulting, there is nothing more heartbreaking than having an incarcerated student come to me explaining that they are through with their old ways and want to go to college so they can get a job upon release but are unable to afford the courses to do so. I have nothing that I can say to these people.

My suggestions are honest but challenging and often met with limited success. I suggest they try the following potential sources of funding for their education:

  • Family and Friends
  • The Two Inmate Scholarship Programs I Know Of
  • Churches
  • Businesses

I advise them to keep on writing and requesting support. But, without a wealthy family or a lot of luck, they often meet failure.

If Pell Grants and other need-based financial assistance were available to these deserving incarcerated students, they could obtain the education they need for life outside of prison.


The sad truth is that most prisons offer little in the form of college-level correctional education. This isn’t so much the administration’s fault as it is a fault of a culture in which prisoners are seen as less deserving. What is not seen or understood is that these incarcerated students desire to put their old ways behind them but lack the funding to learn new ways to succeed. God willing, one day, the eyes and ears of the American people will be opened, and the tools needed to allow prisoners to succeed in life after prison will be allowed (and funded).